Garden, Plant, Cook!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Fall Leaves or Leaf Fall - Pruning Conundrum

Dear Folks,

One of the things that is both amusing and frustrating to Deane is pruning the deciduous trees.

But first make sure you take precautions with the coming hard frost here in the valley.  See my google letter to readers for tips and information.

Click here.

Back to pruning the trees.  The key to pruning the trees is first you look for all the leaves to fall which indicates the sap has stop running and you want to get the pruning done before the new flower-future fruit buds form.  Except here in the valley where you are supposed to go out and talk to the trees and find out when they are going to drop their leaves.

The fig tree after a cool couple of nights and days decided around December 7th to drop all of its leaves in 3 days!  Sitting in the little outdoor breakfast nook, I commented that we needed to eat in a hurry so we would not be buried in the leaves.

The peaches and the apricots, on the other hand, like to hang on to all of their leaves, or at least most of them well into mid to late December or even January all the while happily putting out new flower buds.

The thought of cutting off all of that potential fruit is enough to make an rancher/orchardist like Deane cry, but as we lost 3 trees this year, most likely to old age, a deep pruning was called for and he girded his loins (actually getting into old sweats) and proceeded to remonstrate the trees for clues on the best branches to take off.

The result was a pruned tree still holding onto its leaves!

Oh and all that pruned wood?  The trailer ready to go to the landfill where they transform the branches and twigs into mulch was a masterpiece worthy of a peasant of good sturdy stock and his hard work.

Tips For Pruning:

1) Most pruning of stone fruit trees should be completed before the first of the year, so as to minimize cutting out potential fruit.
2) Most experts recommend a 'vase' shaped configuration, removing crossing branches and opening the center of the trees to allow maximum air flow and light.
3) Citrus while evergreen can occasionally use a pruning, mostly to remove dead limbs, HOWEVER, many commercial citrus growers will allow dead limbs - if not a safety issue, to stay on the tree to support fruit-bearing branches.  Prune Citrus before late January/early February flowering.
4) When pruning try for a downward facing cut so that rain and moisture cannot collect on the cut edges.

Fruit Thinning:

It is a bit early for this tip but you should have the information handy.  The reality of thinning stone fruits is while it seems wasteful to pick off every 2 or 3 young fruit, you will protect the tree in the long run.  We have once or twice not gotten the fruit thinned and the result was broken branches from the weight of all the moisture ladened fruit.  Also the resulting fruit is very small.

The general recommendation is about 6 inches between remaining fruit.  If that is too much for you to deal with, try picking out all but 1 peach out of each cluster,  but do watch the weight of the branches. It is not uncommon to see heavy branches supported with a 2 by 4.

Have a safe and Happy New Year, keep warm, take care of the plants, family and pets, and I will have more information to you next year!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Find my books on gardening or cooking in print or ebook.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Free Upcoming Event and Free Shipping Offer - Ends soon!

Dear Folks,

See the free shipping offer from my publisher below - Ends December 12, 2010.

FREE Lecture January 8, 2011.

The City of Mesa Hosts a monthly series of "Living Green" lectures and I am co-lecturer at the one for January.

Mesa Sustainability site here

Greg Morris and I will be discussing edible landscaping for the backyard gardener.

Greg is a Certified Professional Landscape Designer with a focus on sustainable landscaping, and of course Edible Landscaping is the ultimate sustainable gardening. Click here for Greg's blog.

The lecture is free but it is a good idea to call and let them know you plan to attend (contact info on the City site).


If you have been interested in my books but waiting for a good opportunity, you have one now with a free shipping offer -- the offer ENDS December 12, 2010.  (SPECIAL NOTE: the free shipping may not guarantee delivery in time for Christmas - I don't want you or your giftee to be disappointed.)

Go to my publisher's page for my books.  Enter the following code when prompted at check out -- the offer has a maximum of $45 in free shipping charges -- HOLIDAY305.

Catherine Book Site

The offer is for print copies, of course, but you can order your copy of my two main books as ebooks - with a version available for iPad at the same link.

I will be posting current gardening tips next blog!

Have a wonderful weekend!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Monday, November 29, 2010

Herb Teas for what ails ya!

Dear Folks,

I hope you all had a sweet and comfortable Thanksgiving with friends and family.

Susan Wittig-Albert writes the wonderful herb shop mysteries I enjoy so much and is herself an excellent source of knowledge on herbs and their uses.  Her weekly e-newsletter, which arrives every Monday morning, has 3 herbal tea recipes for soothing symptoms of colds and headaches.  Check out the newsletter with other information:

If you are a mystery lover and have not read any of Susan's books, you are in for a treat.  To get an introduction to the series which is quickly approaching the high teens in numbers, buy a copy of her short story compilation.  You get an introduction to her characters in a charming series of shorts that satisfy.

One of the key points of my writing and lectures is using culinary herbs for their medicinal properties.  Unless you want to get into your own serious study of medicinal herbs, culinary herbs as a basis for health choices is a generally safer beginning.  CAUTION:  always know the sensitivities and allergies of you and your family.  Even culinary herbs can cause reactions in some folks.

One of Susan's recipes using ginger is similar to what I referred to as my "Good for you Broth"

aka nature's "penicillin"
The holidays can bring illness due to stress. Here is a fragrant, soothing, and healthy broth for whatever ails you. This recipe can be doubled or tripled easily
1 cup chicken broth
¼ inch slice of fresh Ginger Root (peel can be left on)
1/8 cup fresh cilantro (whatever you do - do not use dried!)
1 lemon or lime juice, zested, and juiced (divide juice)
Soup Option: Sliced carrots and scallions for extra flavor
Place broth, ginger, Cilantro, zest and half of the juice in pot, cover and bring to simmer for 10 minutes. Strain, add remaining juice and drink while hot (don't burn yourself!). The heat of the broth is one of the helpful elements to making it work well for you. If you want to make some to keep refrigerated and then microwave it later by the cup, reserve the rest of the juice (or squeeze some fresh as needed), and add after re-heating (a lot of the vitamin c is lost in heat - that is the reason for adding the reserved juice just before drinking).

FOR A SOUP, cook noodles in a separate pot - add carrots to the same cooking water, cook until desired done-ness, drain and set aside. If you are feeling creative, slices of carrots can be cut to resemble flowers - pretty effect in the soup. Have herb flowers and finely chopped fresh scallions for garnish ready.

After making the broth, strain, add rest of juice. Divide noodles and carrots into soup bowls, top with broth, and float herb flowers if desired.

for the full post go to:

Don't forget my books are now available as e-books with a version for iPad.

Have a great week and keep comfortable!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Potato Soup with Garden Herbs

Dear Folks,

I've had an urge for potato soup - must be our chilling weather!  Anyway, I think I've come close in flavor to my mom's potato soup of 5 decades ago, but of course I had to add herbs for additional flavor.

Homey, warming and tasty.

I've been having fun with the sorrel from my garden (I've been adding to grain salads for sparkle), we always have fresh parsley too, and I got the arugula from one of our Farmers at the Mesa Farmers Market 'cause my arugula is not up yet, darn :-)

You can easily make this vegan friendly if you desire.

Catherine's Potato Soup with Garden Herbs

2 tablespoons of butter
1/4 of white onion minced

Melt butter in 2 quart stock pot, saute the onion in the melted butter while you clean and cut of potatoes, add a tablespoon of olive oil if it looks like the onions need more liquid.

1 tablespoons of olive oil

3-4 cups of diced potatoes (I leave the peels on and I used red new potatoes)
2 cups of milk
1 1/2 cups of finely minced herbs (I used a mix of parsley, sorrel, arugula)

salt and pepper (about 1/2 tsp of salt and several good grounds of the pepper grinder will usually do it)

Add milk to onions and bring just to boil, stir in potatoes, reduce heat, cover, and cook until tender - about 15 minutes, season with S&P.

Croutons:  (I toasted 12 grain bread, spread butter/canola mix on and very lightly sprinkled with garlic powder and cubed.)

When the potatoes are fork tender, mash leaving some pieces for texture.

Serve with minced herbs and croutons.

Optional:  Crumbled fresh cooked bacon /
Vegan Options: try rice milk instead of the cows milk and some firm cubed tofu can be added just before mashing to increase protein content, use all olive oil for saute.


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

My books are available as ebooks and a version for iPad in addition to print

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Random Acts of Culture

Dear Folks,

I just had to share this with you.  Random Acts of Culture is a project of Knights Arts, in what are known as "flash events" apparently spontaneous, but structured gatherings in public places.

This one is thoroughly enjoyable.  A random performance of Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah"  With the world's largest pipe organ in Macy's Department Store in Philadelphia.


-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Yes! We have some bananas!

Dear Folks,

Well after many lost opportunities - we missed some ripening times when we were out of town, or the fruit simply was not mature enough when frosts hit, we have our special banana fruit!

On Wednesday the 3rd we noticed some of the fruit beginning to yellow and cut the whole stalk on Thursday - (we thought - although yesterday Deane noticed there is still a large 'hand' of fruit on the plant which we will leave there until it begins to yellow).

We have been enjoying the ripening fruit ever since.

This is a "Blue Java" or "Ice Cream" banana (Musa acuminata ss. Java Blue( Moo-suh)(ah-kew-min-AH-tuh) is reported to be the best tasting banana and to have a vanilla ice cream taste.

I purchased the original plant about 8 or 9 years ago at a Home Depot in town, and transported the potted plant around until about 2 years ago and then waited, and waited - the first bunch a year ago came out so late we cut the stalk at first frost to keep it going and it did ripen in our back room but the fruit while banana like in flavor was not inspiring.

Over the next year or so we had the hit or miss with subsequent bunches until this one.  It took right at 4 months to go from first flower sighting to this pre-ripe stage.

So was it worth the wait - yep!

First let me tell you these are not large bananas - they average about 3 inches long.  4 of us did the first taste tests - we all agree the flavor is more pronounced than the store bought kind, sweeter, creamy, and with 'something' additional in the flavor.  1 of us said "vanilla"

So it was worth it.

Okay on what some of the challenges were that I can discuss now.  That first year's bunch was off the first plant which grew to about 10 feet tall.  Subsequent plants were taller.  When they would get really going in the warm weather they would put out a new leaf about every 8-10 days.  It appeared the subsequent fruit bunches even when not robust were larger and more 'hands' developed.

Over the last two years I identified some important aspects of growing them here in the valley:

1) the large root mass grows substantially once you put it in the ground from a potted plant.  Subsequent plants are more robust and put out fruit earlier - most likely because of the enlarging root mass.

2) your success with the fruit is going depend a lot on when the flower comes out after the plant has been in the ground about a year, meaning after the initial plant is in the ground a year, the subsequent 'baby' plants will be more robust, grow faster and reach flowering stage a little sooner.  If the fruit in optimal growing time takes 4 months to go from first flower sighting to ready to harvest the stalk then your prime crop will be available before first frost.

-- we have our last large bunch on another plant (each plant produces one bunch then dies back and you need to cut it out) is just now getting go good size and unfortunately needs another 2 months to get to prime harvest state.  We will watch and cut it at first frost.

-- in a very cold winter your banana plants may go to the ground if we get sustained killing frosts (not common) but they will come back up as soon as the soil warms in the spring, even sooner if the subsequent winter is mild.

3) bananas are a large piece of grass - kind of - creating photosynthesis from all green parts.  One of the complaints of 'orderly gardeners' is that the wind can shred the large leaves and it does, but do not cut any of the leaves off unless they have gone completely brown. If you need to contain it some you can cut the bent-over tips some to keep them from trailing on the ground.

4) they will require a bit more water than some other fruiting kinds, but not excessively.  During the hottest part of the summer we watered for about 10 minutes between the same kind of watering we gave our tomatoes, other fruit trees and herbs.

Recommendations from other banana growers are to try and keep no more than a few plants in the same area (root mass) at a time, to encourage good growth and fruiting.  I don't know that my cutting out some of the baby plants for re-sale did any of that but the remaining plants were very large in girth.  I did need to keep the babies cut out anyway so I could control how wide the spread of the mass was by selectively choosing which baby plants came out.  Worked for us.

Other useable qualities of the banana plant are the leaves and flowers are edible.  While you don't want to chow down on the leaf they make great steaming envelopes for food, imparting a fruity quality to the cooked food.  The banana flowers are also edible but I have not wanted to sacrifice future fruit by trying some of the recipes. Now that I know how good the fruit is when it ripens at the right time, if a flower comes out too late for successful fruit production I will give the recipes for banana flower a try -- maybe next year. (If you are really energetic the fibers of the stalks have been used in weaving.)

We were almost considering giving up on the major plant area (I had started another small one to have at least for using the leaves), and we are both glad we didn't pull the plants -- the fruit is that good.

Next I will be updating on my ginger project.

Have a great time in the garden!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

My books are available as ebooks with a version for ipad as well as in print copies

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cooking Shows are Not New!

Dear Folks,

As fan of old time radio, I asked Jon over at if he had any old shows on cooking or gardening.  I have purchased mp3 shows from Jon for some of my favorite old time detective shows (like "Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar") and with all that is going on now with the economy and renewal of interests in home gardening (aka Victory Gardens) I figured I would ask if Jon had any in his extensive collections.  He said he would check and he did!

He has two small collections of old time cooking shows "Betty Crocker" and "Martha Meade" (known as the Betty Crocker of the West).

I transcribed the recipes from two shows for you below -- I can't wait to try the "Emergency Steak" -- it is a perfect fit for an economical dinner today!  The war time economies required creativity in the kitchen.

A note about old time radio shows.  These shows were made in the 30s and 40s primarily although Jon's collections go from about the 20s through the 50s.  The culture and times were different, think of it as a history lesson. Many of the shows still have their commercials.  As a history lesson it is what it is and the fact that women's roles have significantly changed and evolved in society is an important current event compared to history.

One of the aspects of these cooking shows is how long they pause to give the listener time to write down the instructions -- compare that to today's cooking shows and you have to be a speed typist to write it down.  Although most of the time you can go to a current show's website to find the recipe, many times they are not available at the time of the show, so the pause is helpful :-)

Jon tells me he is working on compiling the gardening shows and hopes to have something in the spring.  I can't wait!  Did you know about 40% of all produce consumed in the country back then was home grown to support the war - Victory Gardens were then and now a great way to bring fresh to the table.  Our local family owned nursery Harpers Nursery was started as a Victory Garden!

Jon has an extensive collection of holiday shows, click here for the main holiday page.  Although Halloween is past Jon has a family friendly selection of halloween shows - comedy and variety - in addition to his scary sampler.  Click here for the variety halloween page.

On each of the main pages, Jon includes a show you can listen to or download to computer.

His collections are inexpensive and many times include a hundred hours or more on each disc.

Okay here are the recipes with a link following for the shows page.  The emphasis was on a lot of vegetables, a point I keep writing about and folks need to pay attention to today - your plate for a meal should be a rainbow of color with 2/3 of it taken up by vegetables and fruits (not including potatoes, pasta or grains).

"Emergency Steak"
Betty Crocker August 10, 1945
Serves 6
1 lb of ground beef or hamburger
1/2 cup milk
1 cup wheaties
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 Tblsp finely chopped onion
Mix all together, pat the mixture into a 1" thick 'steak shape' on a broiler pan or in a heavy skillet.  Broil 8-15 minutes til desired doneness (med - well).
Serve garnished with parsley and sliced radishes and vegetable side dish (below)
Cut a mixture of carrots, celery and cabbage into equal size pieces to equal 3-5 cups total.  Cook in a pot with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and 1/4 cup of water in a covered pot. Add a bit of water if needed. All the water should cook out.  Cook only until crisp done (in the 40s they would have been cooked very well done).   Serve the Steak and veggies with a tossed salad.

"Sour Cream Tart"
Martha Meade Society Cooking Show
May 16, 1933
Martha Meade was called the Betty Crocker of the West, sponsored by The Sperry Flour Company, of San Francisco, CA, would eventually become part of General Mills.
The show featured information about the local growers of food products and in this episode the focus was on apples.
6 baked pastry tart shells
2 eggs separated
2 Tblsp flour
6 Tblsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon*
1/4 tsp nutmeg*
1/4 tsp "pastry spice" but can substitute half and half ground cloves and allspice*
1 cup sour cream (or add a tablespoon of vinegar to 1 cup of cream and let set for a couple of hours)** 
1 cup of unsweetened apple sauce (Show notes to make apple sauce add the juice of 1/2 a lemon to the apples while cooking and then add the rind for flavor - removing before serving -- Catherine notes if you have never made apple sauce it is very easy -- core and dice up apples - I personally leave the peels on - 1-2 tablespoon of water is all you need usually - bring to high simmer, reduce heat, stir, cover and cook on low for about 30-40 minutes depending on how thick you want it.  Stirring occasionally.
4 tbls sugar
2 tbls chopped walnuts
*Catherine says you could substitute 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice and achieve a very similar taste.
** Catherine says "I would consider 1 cup of greek style yogurt as an option to the sour cream."
Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon yellow.  Add sugar and beat to incorporate sugar well.  Mix flour, salt and spices together then add to egg mixture, mix.  Then add sour cream and apple sauce and blend thoroughly.  Cook mixture in the top of a double boiler until thickened.  Cool, Pour into pastry shells.
Whip egg whites to peaks, gradually add in 4 tablespoons sugar and 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts, and top each tart with some of the meringue.  Bake in slow oven 300 for approximately 20 minutes. 

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Question on Assassin Bugs

Dear Folks,

I was sent a comment on my September, 2008 post regarding aphids click here to read that post.

Since I was going to write another post on the "white flies are coming, the white flies are coming" -- the white files being a form of aphid and a real pain in the gardener psyche, I thought I would simplify and give you the link to the older post and respond to the comment.

Doris “anonymous” commented on aphids and the beneficial predatory insects which can help you manage these pests:

I found your page while trying to find out if the little bugs in broccoli are hazardous to ingest. My concern is regarding the use of assassin bugs. From wikipedia: Some assassin bug groups specialize on certain prey groups, such as ants (feather-legged bugs - Holoptilinae), termites, or diplopods (Ectrichodiinae). Some blood-sucking species, particularly Triatoma spp. and other members of the subfamily Triatominae (e.g., Paratriatoma hirsuta) , are also known as kissing bugs due to their habit of biting humans in their sleep on the soft tissue of the lips and eyes; a number of these haematophagous species, located in Central and South America, are able to transmit a potentially fatal trypanosome disease known as Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis). So, I don't know which brand you are advocating, but surely wouldn't care to encounter the last one!!! Take care, Doris
Doris, first the aphids attacking the broccoli are most likely a type of aphid which is live baring as opposed to the egg baring types, and usually ‘gray’ in color although they can be green or other colors.  The live baring are more prolific in reproducing and can be a serious problem on the cabbage family members like broccoli because they can ‘hide’ in the junctions of the leaves and stems. (See my soap solution remedy below.)
It is unlikely if you ingest aphids that you will become ill unless the plant was sprayed with chemicals recently.  Most people simply do not want to ‘eat’ insects under any circumstances because of the ‘ick’ factor.
As far as the assassin bugs as beneficial insects are concerned, to my knowledge you won’t be able to control which member of that large insect family your pests attract, and, again as far as I know you can’t buy assassin bugs like you can lady bugs or praying mantis egg cases.
Folks, Doris is correct on the subspecies ‘kissing bugs’ being vectors for a serious disease, most of the some 138 species are south of the US border, with 12 of the species ‘native’ to the US.
According to “Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America” the USA species are not potential vectors because of the differing behavior patterns of these “American” bugs.  So Doris if you are in the US, you probably do not have to worry about which assassin bugs show up in your garden.
All gardeners should educate themselves and family members to leave the assassin bugs alone, regardless.  They do a good job on the pests but can give you a hard bite, described as excruciating, if you threaten it.  Most of the beneficial insects are capable of biting, so you should always leave them alone to do their job
Soap solution.  Mix an a small amount of something like dawn dish detergent into a quart of water and once every 5 days during the growing period of plants like broccoli or cauliflower, pour about a 1/4 cup of this solution straight down the center area of the plant.  This is like grandma pouring the dish washing basin onto the plants to keep the bugs away.  It works because even the ‘exhausted’ soap suds are enough to kill the pests without harming the plant or soil.  The 5 days is important because the birth cycle of the pests is about 7 days so you want to keep the cycles broken.

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Eco-Friendly Lunch & Snack Options & What is Edible Landscaping?

Dear Folks,

I will get to the question of what is Edible Landscaping below, but first - options to plastic wrapped and bagged lunch and snacks for school or office.

Susan Decker is "Always A Little Behind" crafts and this gal is an amazing one-woman crafter. Pictured here is her newest eco product, reusable and washable snack bags to replace plastic wrap and ziplock bags.  These items are new additions to her lunch products.  

"Lunch Bags are 11”h x 8 ½” w x 3” d, made from 100% cotton fabric, lined with Nylon Ripstop fabric (waterproof and washable), and haveVelcro closures. Take your lunch to work, know which bag is yours and be environmentally friendly all at once!"  The snack bags pictured are small, medium and about half the size of the lunch "box" bag.  The lunch bag is $12 and the 3 smaller ones are $4, $5 and $6 or $13.50 for the set of 3.

Contact Susan at:
Or call: (480)895-8889

You can see the lunch bag at her etsy site

Greg Peterson of the "Urban Farm" in Phoenix writes about the need to find better eco ways to replace plastic wrap in the current issue of Edible Phoenix.  Greg contemplates the impact of the Gulf Oil spill and all of our tremendous use of petroleum-based products.  He also highlights a Tempe gardener who created a community garden in her back yard -- a superior idea.  A community garden does not have to be a public dedicated lot, it can be as simple or as complex as you and your friends, neighbors or group care to make it. I am currently mentoring a retirement community garden, and an elementary school community garden.  There is no better time in this current economy, and with our primary planting season getting under way, to find ways to garden in your backyard or with friends.

Read more of Greg's article "Jena's Tempe Garden" here:

If you are not familiar with the Edible Phoenix magazine it is available at your favorite farmers market, quarterly, or you can subscribe here:

. . .

WHAT IS Edible Landscaping?

When I say "edible landscaping" to a customer or passer-by at the farmers market I sometimes get a quizzical look - what IS edible landscaping, the look says. Many people take the word landscaping to infer LARGE as in trees and shrubs.

What I mean by edible landscaping is the use of edibles in place of ALL aspects of the garden — opening up the choices of what to use, and where, for texture, form, and fragrance.

In most cases there is an edible plant, which will do well in the desert, to replace strictly ornamental (and often poisonous) plants, making the gardens safer for family and pets, in the long term — and useful as in edible.

Do you like fountain grass?  How about replacing it with lemon grass.

Need to get rid of the oleander, or would like large privacy plantings?  Replace it with bamboo or sugar cane.  The sugar cane grows handsomely like bamboo but is not as invasive and comes in a gorgeous stem color of burgundy called "Pele's Smoke" (an heirloom sugar cane).*   Bamboo shoots (the young sprouts at the base of stalks) ARE the bamboo shoots you buy canned in the Asian section of your grocery store.

If you are worried about the watering requirements of sugar cane or bamboo, once established they take standard vegetable watering — in our gardens now with temperatures still in the 100s the sugarcane is being watered every 4 days.

*Sugar cane has a history in the Valley of the Sun.  It was grown commercially in the late 1800s and early 1900s and again to a lesser degree in the 1950s-70s.  It grows easily and quickly to a nice height of 8 to 12 feet, can be cut back for harvest and re-sprouts.  Because the leaves can be ‘sharp,' sugar cane also makes a good perimeter/privacy hedge.

Need a formal hedge?  Try myrtle, lavender, rosemary, or any of the scented geraniums for your options of low to high hedges, which can be trimmed to form.

Themes and Landscaping ideas from: "Edible Landscaping In The Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate"

Back Row:  Lavender (tolerant of lime leach from blocks and bricks)
Front Row:  Ornamental (and edible) Kales and cabbages

You can find more information on these themes by purchasing the book (the book is now also available for iPad users) or joining the "Edible landscaping subscription service" - see the link in the upper right corner here on the blog.

As mentioned above, now is the beginning of our primary planting time.  Optimal time for perennial plants, trees and shrubs is Oct through Feb.  Oh and cool weather annuals and Garlic!

Have a great time in the garden

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Save These Dates!

Dear Folks,

I have several classes or lectures lined up at the moment.
October 9th
November 20th
January 8, 2011

SALSA 101 Class with Catherine "The Herb Lady"
Saturday, October 9th at 2-4 p.m.
Did you know fruit salsa was not invented by modern chefs? It has been around longer than you think! Come enjoy an afternoon learning about the history and plants that make up salsa, then make your own variations to take home with you! The class is $15 for members, $22.50 for non- members. All supplies are included. Space is Limited. Call 520.689.2723 to register. All proceeds benefit Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Tofu: Holiday Recipe Ideas! Presentation with Catherine "the Herb Lady"
Saturday, November 20th at 1-3 p.m.
Tofu is the plain sister of healthy foods with a secret — it is a palate for flavor! Tofu is not just for vegetarians and can take your next holiday meal to a whole new level. In this presentation Catherine explains that menu planning for the holidays with vegan or vegetarian family and friends is not the challenge you would think. Take home holiday and casual recipe ideas – and try samples of them too - for entertaining using nutrient dense tofu and edamame (green soy beans) that will please meat eaters and vegetarians alike. This presentation is $10 for members, $17.50 for non-members. Recipes and food samples are included. Space is limited. Call 520.689.2723 to register. All proceeds benefit Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Edible Landscaping: Vegetable Gardening, Herbs and More
January 8, 2011   1:30 - 4 P.M.
Red Mountain Branch

Presented by:  Greg Morris, Master Gardener, Landscape Designer, and Catherine "The Herb Lady" Crowley

Now you can have your landscape and eat it too! This program will cover the basics for successful vegetable gardening, but will also show how to incorporate edible plants throughout the landscape, and will suggest plant varieties for landscape function and edibility. An interactive 'show-and-smell' with culinary herbs will teach you growing basics and provide cooking suggestions, too.

Donna DiFrancesco
Conservation Specialist
Environmental & Sustainability
480.644.3334 (tel):  480.644.4774 (fax)
PO Box 1466
Mesa, AZ 85211-1466
Water Use It Wisely!

. . .

We have had our 'seasonal shift' and now we are entering "spring in the desert" -- for new comers that may be hard to understand.  October is the beginning of the primary planting season for perennials and all cool weather annuals and biennials.

If you have tried and tried to have a garden in the desert southwest and been disappointed in the results one of the primary pieces of information is what to plant and when.  When I write and talk about being able to garden all year long - I mean it -- however you have to plant each plant variety in its own proper season.  October ?  Plant dill, parsley, and cilantro and all the cole (cabbage) family and root vegetables and all the wonderful greens and lettuces.  February?  Plant basil, tomatoes, chives, watermelon, summer squash, and corn.  July?  Yes, late July - early August - plant all the "SEEDS" for the fall plants you want including those pumpkins for Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Think snowsuits in July and Swimsuits in December and you will have a way of understanding when to begin seeds for transplanting and the different seasons in the desert garden.

My easy helper 'reminder service' is just $21 a year for information directly into your email inbox.  Several times a month you will receive simple but detailed information on what to plant and when, when to look at harvesting (and also what is available at your local farmers market), and how to use the bounty of your gardens.  This inexpensive service is made possible by keeping it automated, so I am always happy to answer additional questions for subscribers individual gardens via email.

You can pay through this link:

Paypal payment window

Also for those of you interested in my gardening and/or cooking books, they are now available for your iPad.

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Sunday, August 29, 2010

More Herbs, Less Salt Day

Dear Folks,

August 29th is designated as "More Herbs, Less Salt Day" and usually listed in the "wacky national day of' lists," but it is more than just a "something" to list for August 29th.

(You CAN find ‘something' on just about every day of the year if you are looking for a reason to throw a party.)

First, let me start by saying salt is not the enemy.  We need it to balance water/mineral levels in our bodies and to reduce bitterness in some foods.  Breads and grains would be almost like eating straight flour if you did not add some salt to the baking/cooking methods.

The problem is our tendency as human beings to overindulge in something.  If a little is good a lot must be better.  Given the ‘manufactured food' frenzy which began with the advent of convenience foods and TV dinners more than 5 decades ago, and has not abated at all,  it is no wonder that many of us simply got used to highly salted foods as the means good taste.  (Some health professionals even call it an addiction.)

Happily the "idea" of using herbs and spices has resurrected from almost obscurity (the bottle of really old Italian Seasoning in the back of the cupboard) to the current explosion of food shows and celebrity chefs doing amazing things with flavor-based seasoning.

What is a flavor-based seasoning?  Herbs and spices have a distinctive taste and scent which is imparted to foods cooked or prepared with them via the essential oils in those herbs and spices.  Those essential oils contain some of the common buzz words, "phenolic" "polyphenol"  "antioxidant" — vitamins C and E are types of  Phenolic., along with many other vitamins and minerals — most are considered antioxidant in effect.

If you would like some scientific and interesting history on "phenolic" read:

If you are familiar (many are by now) with the super antioxidant properties of blueberries it may surprise you to learn that Dark Opal Basil contains some of the same antioxidant properties.

FLAVOR FIRST: Chose, first, to flavor your food with herbs and spices, and then add salt to enhance it.

One of my favor examples are rosemary and lemon with any starchy food.  Traditionally, folks reached for the salt shaker with foods like potatoes or rice, because the flavor is mild to bland.  In experimenting years ago I discovered an natural affinity of rosemary to anything starchy — a perfect compliment of the flavor of the rosemary with foods like potatoes.  (Rosemary bread has become so common at restaurants, many diners expect it.)

When I started "talking up" the idea of rosemary with a baked potato, the usual response was - "it still needs salt."  So I went back to experimenting and discovered a spritz of fresh lemon juice on the hot baked potato with a sprinkle of crushed rosemary was so amazingly good, even my "meat and potatoes guy" had to admit it was just about perfect with just those two ingredients.  He's a salt-shaker guy so he won't give up the shaker, but did thoroughly enjoy that baked potato with out the salt.

Salt is considered a flavor enhancer — really in many cases it is a flavor ‘hider' particularly when the food is not tasty.  I see herbs and spices as being the real flavor enhances.  Things like the rosemary above make the basic flavor of the potato just jump out and sparkle.

Rosemary, garlic and black pepper are a combination which can improve anything on the grill or roasted, and anything starchy.

I don't suggest you throw the salt shaker out, but do suggest as I say to my guy when I've prepared the meal, taste it first because of the herbs and spices I've added and then reach for the shaker if you need it.

If you want to try and cut back on the salt and give your family an option, make your own seasoning salt with your favorite herb/spice blend.  Mix 10:1 parts of (10) seasoning to (1) salt.  If the seasoning is coarse, use kosher salt, if the seasoning is fine, use a fine sea salt.

Use that when experimenting and at the table.

I hope you celebrate not only today, but from now on with the flavor-power of herbs and spices.

A Note About My Books: Both my beginners gardening book and my cookbook are now available through ibookstore for your iPad or similar.

"Edible Landscaping In The Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate"
"101+ Recipes From The Herb Lady"

And of course you can still purchase them through your favorite book seller in print.

Lectures Coming Up:

I have two food demo programs coming up at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  Details to follow but save the dates — there will be a small fee to attend, which covers materials and benefits the Arboretum.

October 9th, 2010, 2-4 p.m. Learn all about the history of salsas and make your own to take home.

November 20th, 2010 1-3 p.m. Tofu and Soybeans - not just for vegetarians.  Holiday food recipe ideas using tofu and edamame for the vegan, vegetarian and meat lover's vegetarian family and guests.

Check the calendar on the bottom of the blog for more details as we get closer.

Have a great day,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cheap Summer Fun -- The Old Fashioned Way

Dear Folks,

I remember running through the sprinklers when I was a kid, cooling off and working off the excess energy on a hot summer day.  (And I have also enjoyed a run as an adult, when passing commercial properties watering at night with the big industrial sprinklers -- we got good and soaked and it felt wonderful.  We were very careful not to damage or step on any equipment in doing so.)

Grab a glass of homemade lemonade or sun tea, kick back and watch this charming video of babies playing in the sprinkler under mom's watchful eye.

What inexpensive ways did you find to have fun in the summer in the backyard with family and friends?

Try to stay cool, and drink water!!!

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Greening - Various Tools to Help You Shop and Live Wisely

Dear Folks,

If you have been following me, you are probably already trying to shop at your local farmers markets, do more cooking at home to control your menu ingredients, enhance your family quality time, and experiment with all those cool recipes you see on cooking shows.

To add to your tools and information sources, I tripped across a couple of sites I found helpful.

The Sustainable Table site has a variety of kits (in PDF file form) which can be used as teaching or display tools and for your own family information use.

They also have a kit for the Sustainable Dinner Party which can give you some ideas for Supper Groups.
(I have been thinking off and on of potentially setting up 'secret suppers' -- it would require quite a bit of planning, but is fun to contemplate.  I will let you all know if I get serious!)

Another site to visit for information is the Animal Welfare Institute, which certifies humanely raised livestock farms.  They are dedicated to supporting the small-scale and family farm.

The troubling issues with factory farming continue to, finally, get more and more attention. Even when a farmer wants to do things right if they make the mistake of getting into contracts with large processors -- the real manufacturers when you come down to what you are buying -- they are trapped in unconscionably egregious contracts which leaves them captive to corporate whims or in bankruptcy.

Read what some chicken farmers are up against.

How can you get more control over what you buy?  I have noticed more and more food manufacturers are getting the message.  I just saw an ad for Hunts Ketchup which loudly proclaimed on the label 'no high fructose corn syrup' -- good start!

They are listening. The real challenge to getting healthier and better quality foods is to make sure you are clear about what you want them to offer to you.

I participate in online consumer surveys.  I am troubled when the elimination questions (I don't have the ability to complain about the questions) are frequently aimed at getting the survey participant to use emotions to explain how they purchase something.  That is not to say there are no questions about what do you purchase - recently I had a survey on dairy and cheese and how much was organic, or natural, or other - that was a good one.

One good thing I noticed about the surveys in the last 6 months are the options in prepared goods or shelf-stable foods which offer more environmental, natural, local, family farm options for selections in answering the survey.

So why might that be a problem?  Because those buzz words can be grabbed by food processors to label something which amounts to bait and switch - "So and so's family farm produces only naturally prepared..."

Back in January, 2010 "Tyson Foods Inc. has agreed to settle a lawsuit that accused the poultry giant of falsely claiming its chickens were "raised without antibiotics."

"In 2007, Tyson began advertising and labeling its poultry products as having been "raised without antibiotics." The following year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered Tyson to remove the labels when it found that the company had injected its chickens with antibiotics before they hatched. Tyson argued the labels were accurate because chickens aren't "raised" until after they're born."

So how do you like that corporate logic?

Isn't that enough to make you want to scream at them!  The quote attributed to Voltaire goes something like "If you wish to converse with me, define your terms."  Don't you wish we could tell corporate food producers they need to define their terms so we know what they are really saying?

What is a consumer to do?  You need to know your suppliers like your grandparents did, your local farmers, meat producers, egg sellers, and cheese makers.

Some of the material on the sustainable table site are sheets of questions to ask sellers of food.

Oh, and on the subject of organic - organic picked green and shipped hundreds or thousands of miles is not a whole lot better for you than "somewhat" regional and non-organic.

Organic and natural are two words used at your local farmers market.  Here is what THEY mean:

Organic means it was grown locally in a USDA certified program, picked local and sold local.

Natural for most of our local small-scale farmers means they grew the foods or produced the foods in much the same way as organic producers but without going through the expense of official certification.

Our farmers market vendors and farmers are happy to tell you all about their foods and origins - they are proud of their products.  Ask them questions.

There is now a "Certified Naturally Grown" label for small-scale farmers and food producers. Check them out at:

What is a natural flavor or anything proclaimed natural?

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or flavoring rather than nutritional...
When a company says it is selling you something based on what they KNOW you want, but if it is in-fact selling you a substitute or inferior product isn’t that bait and switch?
The manufacturers of Splenda were sued for claiming their product is sugar.  It is not and they had to concede that or face losing the lawsuit.
When the high fructose corn syrup producers revved up their protectionist marketing campaign to tell us that it was our own over-eating that was the problem and not their product, they left out the science which shows that consuming foods containing HFCS does not trigger the “you are full” chemical leptin.  And their throw-away tag line “in moderation” is a slap in the face when you look at the sheer volume of foods manufactured with HFCS -- how do you moderate eating something that is in almost every processed or manufactured food and which has no eating cut off command?

Oh, and the FDA does not object to the corn syrup producers calling HFCS ‘natural’ - natural hmm, - HFCS has been found to be toxic to honey bees fed it.  (In cold winter areas bee keepers feed their bees sugar water or even honey to help sustain them through the cold time.)
See my blog on sweeteners:
I have also been concerned about the very useful plant-based Stevia being ‘hijacked’ by the corporate giants.
In looking at labels on packages of some of the newest offerings purporting to be Stevia, most are a combination of stevia and sugar alcohols -- the sugar alcohols being used to add baking capabilities and additional taste.  Not necessarily a bad thing although some people are allergic to some sugar alcohols like sorbitol (I for one am).
What bothers me is when one of the big giants (or two) get into the act and make some part of it proprietary with the disclaimer "trade secret."  Truvia is a partnership of Cargill and Coca Cola, and they have stevia and sugar alcohol listed on their ingredients.  And then they say “natural flavors” but won’t tell you what they are - it is a trade secret.
Remember HFCS can call itself natural. Splenda tried to call itself something it wasn’t.
Bottom line - if you can’t tell what the ingredients really are and you don’t know enough about the company's history in truthful advertising, back away.

AND don't forget about growing some of your own food, raising a couple of chickens for eggs, or even consider having a dairy goat or two (you need to know your areas zoning limitations).

You may wish to join the Phoenix Permaculture Guild forum  - they have groups on different subjects. I am a member of the micro-livestock group and soil culture group.  Nice people, made up of newbies, getting there, experts - who still learn - and all are very helpful with answering questions.

If you have an interest in my books, the publishing site is still offering free shipping on orders totaling 19.95 shipped to USA addresses.

And for you Mac iPad, iPod and iPhone users my Edible Landscaping in the Desert Southwest is now available through iBook.

Have a great weekend,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Sunflowers! Companions, Nutrition, Sustainable, Fun!

 Dear Folks,

I love sunflowers!

From the wild ones which crop up beside highways and country roads, and even our garden, to the colorful hybrids including the dainty lemon yellow, through the multicolor ranging through oranges and burgundy to the mammoth huge varieties, they all have delighted me for years.

Sunflowers have also been occasional companions for the traditional Native American's three-sisters companion planting, as a 'fourth-sister'.

I've written a long article with a chart on various combinations of the three sisters (also known as a Monsoon Garden) sustainable gardening/farming practice at my newsletter site.

Click here to go to the PDF file.   You can also go to the newsletter site by clicking here.  The three sisters article is under "files".

Here is a brief summary.  The original threes sisters are corn, beans, and squash.  In arid areas where both food and water were precious commodities, the practice of growing 3 complimentary plants (and nutrients) together maximized water use and made caring for the plants easier.   The fact that corn and beans together makes a complete protein and squash provided additional vitamins, minerals and fiber all worked to give the people a very healthy diet.  The soil also benefited because while corn is a heavy feeder, beans put nitrogen back into the soil and the squash covering the ground minimized evaporation and weeds.

Sunflowers as I now know are more edible than previously thought, are a fun option to plant along with sugar peas - one of my favorite 'never-makes-it-into-the-house' garden buffet snacks - and cucumbers.

Read the article for more information and tips.

I'm ready to start sauteeing the large sunflower discs/heads for a fun time in the kitchen!

If you can view video on your computer, you must check out this how to video on braising sunflower heads:

A note for Mac enthusiasts and iPad owners!!!  My "Edible Landscaping in the Desert Southwest: Wheelbarrow to Plate" is now available through the iBookstore app.

Around The Garden.
I just harvested all of my garlic and it is drying now.  I will have some for sale at the farmers market tomorrow.  We cut one of the banana fruit clusters to hang and finish ripening.  I am giving sugarcane a try, and the first sections are starting to sprout.

Bananas, lemon grass, and sugarcane (and palm trees) all a kind grass -- really big grass, so they do need regular watering to maintain them.

DID YOU KNOW fact...the California Fan Palm tree (aka Arizona Fan Palm, Desert Fan Palm, Cotton Fan Palm), Washingtonia filifera is the only native palm tree in the desert USA?  The fruit can be eaten raw, cooked or ground into flour as the Native Americans did.  The tree can live 80 to 250 years!!!

Keep that in the back of your mind when someone tells you palm trees are not native to Arizona.

See more information on this Arizona Native at wikipedia - click here.

July Gardening 
Fall planting season begins July 15th for all seeds of fall edibles.  Get your garden plans together for this heavy sowing time from July 15 through August 15th.  Why???  If you consider that you want pumpkins for instance you need to count backwards from Halloween or Thanksgiving 90 to 120 days.

Have a great weekend, stay hydrated, and support your local businesses and farmers markets,

-- Catherine, The Herb Lady